If you ask a member about their favorite association moment, it probably involved a conversation with one or more peers. That’s what members remember most: connecting with their peers and learning from each other. They also love contributing their expertise, opinions, and ideas in an ad hoc way with no long-term commitment required. How do you provide all this? Invite them to participate in member advisory groups.
Member advisory groups fulfill the desire for connection and contribution. These groups also help associations understand the needs and interests of different segments of your membership and market. You no longer have to rely solely on surveys or a board/committee for insight about the entire membership.
How are member advisory groups different from committees?
A member advisory group includes members from a specific membership segment, for example, a job position, level of experience, specialty, or company size. These groups give members an opportunity to contribute their expertise and perspective without a big commitment of time.
Member advisory groups have no decision-making authority. They have no influence on programming like a committee does. They’re purely advisory, so you don’t have to listen to them, but, of course, you’d probably want to. These groups supplement the insight you gain from members of committees related to programming and content, such as conference and professional development committees.
Be careful naming these groups. Don’t call them an advisory board—that will confuse or lead them to believe they have power. The word committee will scare people off. It’s best not to use a name that’s used by high-commitment governance groups, such as council. The ho-hum name group seems to work just fine for many associations.
What do member advisory groups do?
Member advisory groups sometimes meet monthly for several months or they’re called together in an ad hoc style. The members of these groups:
• Answer questions posed by staff or volunteer leaders.
• Provide feedback.
• Identify trends.
• Discuss issues.
• Review programs, such as course curriculum and other educational programs.
They help your association understand what makes different segments tick and click—their interests, stumbling blocks at work or in their career, and the best way to fit learning into busy lives. They advise the association on content needs for online learning programs, conferences, webinars, workshops, certification programs, and magazines and other digital/print media.
You could also ask group members to survey their peers and gather intel. Many people are more comfortable (and more frank) talking to a peer than talking to a volunteer leader or staff.
You could also put together advisory groups for employers so you can learn about their learning and development needs, for example, skills gaps and corporate training.
Benefits of member advisory groups for associations
By actively recruiting members for advisory groups, you show your organization’s commitment to listening and responding to current challenges. Members see that you’re not assuming you know best and you value the ideas and opinions of the people you serve.
Thanks to their member advisory groups, the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA) “connected with more people at member companies who didn’t have exposure to the association before.” By forming groups for different job positions, you can extend your association’s reach into a company and create more ties to its employees.
HIDA credits their member advisory groups as “one of the biggest factors in HIDA’s improved member retention and engagement rate.” With the help of these groups, HIDA staff identified top issues and built tailored resources.
The Association Forum has four identity-based advisory groups—Latinx, LGBTQI+, BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) and AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander)—that provide guidance on strategies to enrich member recruitment and engagement, professional development, leadership development, and cultural awareness.
By inviting member feedback on ideas and program prototypes, you increase the likelihood of a successful launch while cultivating program champions. These members will feel a greater sense of ownership for something they helped bring into existence. And who knows, now that they’ve had a taste of contributing their expertise, they might be more willing to step up their volunteering commitment in the future.
Benefits of advisory groups for members
Participating in a member advisory group is a low-commitment way to get involved and meet peers, volunteer leaders, and staff. Members have the chance to develop or deepen relationships with peers while discussing issues, challenges, interests, and needs.
Everyone likes to be an expert and have their perspective heard and considered. Members of advisory groups get to serve as a sounding board for new ideas and discuss their opinion with decision-makers. The most satisfying aspect of this role is making a difference. They can see the fruit of their efforts in new and improved (or discontinued) association programs. You can create memorable association moments by inviting your members to participate in an advisory group.